Small series

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Small series is the name of a special form of production for a special product group in a limited number.


The small series differs from the mass product, which can hardly be changed and remains the same overall . According to commercial custom , the number of a small series ranges between three and a hundred copies. For example, it is not possible to give a percentage of the total population (think of countries like the USA and China ). Small series are therefore both intentional and material - and only if both factors work together at the same time - products realized in small numbers. Small series are generally subject to semi-industrial production, which means that many manual production steps usually have to be carried out. Quantities (in the sense of water or electricity) do not belong in this category.

Reasons for small series

There are economic or legal reasons for manufacturing a product in small numbers. Forms of distribution such as “on commission” (ie for billing at a later point in time), “on trial”, “for inspection” are almost always used to bring products from a small series onto the market. Correspondingly, the actually (or assumed) non-existent market (i.e. the [expected] sale is below the investment costs ) should be mentioned, no less also the lack of capital for large-scale production ; to lead u. a. Capital-intensive production processes or means of production , so that products can only be manufactured in a small series (or as a single piece ), as is the case, for example, with production using 3D printing / rapid prototyping .

Zero number of a newspaper magazine with partly already categorized , but empty pages, bound with three volumes in a library volume, stamped with a note.

In addition, research samples (i.e. (destruction) samples intended for further product development ) are produced in small series for submission to (partner) universities / professors or for an assessment by experts, opinion leaders, first adapters and / or a representative part of the population ; in this case this can also be called a sample series or a pilot series . The pilot series is a popular form of small series for publishing products , especially magazines, and corresponds to a “trial” magazine, in which the layout, thematic focus and scope are first checked with selected readers and (future) advertisers.

Legal reasons - here patentability is in the foreground - can be decisive for the small series in order to quickly obtain proof of a market launch. In some countries, legal deadlines that are not met for the exploitation or market launch of the products described in inventor patents prevent large-scale production because if the deadline is not met, the patent claim - but not the design protection - expires and any new processes and Techniques are automatically / by law included in the state of the art .

Products supplementing large or mass series , which may differ in color, shape, material or equipment, are also included in small series, even if the manufacturer does not apply for patent or design protection.

Many products of daily use have standards suffice. For these (industrial) standardization processes and also for setting new industrial standards for products ( DIN , EN , CENELEC , IEEE , BS, etc.), small series are indicated.


In the arts and publishing house production, appreciation and / or increase in value (rarity or for special forms of art reproduction such as copperplate engravings) can be decisive for small series. This also includes very small or small editions (personal or business-related commemorative publications , (hand) numbered editions, in some cases gray literature and literature from self- published publications ). The arts show how means of production, small series and individual piece production to be distinguished from small series interact. The copperplate engraving is exemplary: On the one hand, the die is a one-off production that is used as a basis for the reproduction of the work. Due to the material properties of copper, the die is subject to rapid wear, so that a limited number of copies ( reproductions ) can be made. This is where the value creation and / or increase in value also come into play, as simultaneously occurring factors in the value chain . This category also includes products from hand, private or art presses (so-called press prints ).

In the art-related area of design (product design) and textiles , small series appear as primarily hand-made products with exactly the same properties (color, shape, pattern, repeats ), unless they are to be assessed as individual items from the outset (see above).


Just as the small series represents a cross-product or independent category, the one-off production is also to be understood. Accordingly, the following must be distinguished from a small series: the one-off production of a product for special purposes (tests, patent applications or individual exploration with experts) including medical aids (prostheses, implants and visual aids) that require individual adaptation to the patient.

Special production factors determine the area of ​​literature ( manuscript ), film ( screenplay , storyboard ), ( visual) art ; the arts and crafts or art photography with one to a maximum of three photo prints (usually with destruction of the photo negative); this also includes printing matrices and the production of a motherboard in the sound recording industry . They are all unique . Technical documents such as drafts or building plans in classical architecture, graphic drafts in the visual arts are also to be addressed as one-offs.

With regard to the production quantities (products from a large series), a reduction in the production number of a product produced in large series that does not belong to the area of ​​small series, as well as the remaining, received and / or damaged number of previously produced goods (e.g. auction items , Bankruptcy goods , remaining stock ). Even minimum quantities of goods to be produced (such as the number of copies for sound carriers in order to benefit from advantages, inclusion in sales catalogs, air time (use by radio and television stations), GEMA etc.) are not considered to be small series. Their shape is that of the minimum purchase quantity, actually a characteristic that occurs in connection with large series.

In the consciousness of consumers, gastronomic products, menus and baked goods are not understood as small, medium or large series. This is likely to be related to the fact that gastronomy, catering suppliers and farms are not primarily understood and perceived as a branch of industry , but rather as a branch or their products as goods made with tradition and care.

Special forms of large series

In connection with series production , special forms of production should also be mentioned, as these are beginning to establish themselves today economically (and in part ecologically motivated). What they have in common is that they have to be addressed as large series, because the production chain is intentionally designed for large production numbers, even if this is not directly recognizable on the sales side. These products are intended to reach wide sections of the population with low production costs. For these special forms of production, reference is also made to The Long Tail . They can be assigned: Book-on-Demand (BoD and E-Book ), Video-on-Demand ( VoD ), Audio-on-Demand (CD-on-Demand), as well as products in the sense of multimedia worlds of experience ( computer games ) and Software distributions (e.g. Linux OpenSUSE etc.). An even closer connection between industry and individual users / end consumers can be seen with SaaS (Software as a Service) and the associated cloud services . In the history of Comput ings, this idea was at an early stage - but much less computing power - from 1964 to the System / 360 implemented by IBM.

Software development, for example, shares these special forms of production with film , in that it can initially be reproduced as a unique copy (software testing) or small numbers of film copies for cinema screenings (special form of mass distribution) and finally as a mass product ( DVD ) protected by production and distribution law .

The large series appears as a small series and as a unique item

Since the 2010s it has been observed that the categories of large / small series and individual items are increasingly mixed. Basically, these mixed forms build on the large-scale series by making a product available as a blank for its individualization (mostly online), which can be changed in its individual aspects (taste, design, equipment). The means of production are also increasingly being made available to brick-and-mortar retailers (e.g. restaurants, bookstores) so that a product, some of which has been customized by the customer, is immediately available for sale.

It is sometimes said that it can be assumed that the means and instruments of production from industrial developments from the 1990s would now have been increasingly made available to the “general public”, which, however, have since been significantly improved technologically for easier handling for end users, thus one Democratization of the means of production takes place. The economic consequences of these developments for stationary retail are still largely open and could - according to the critics - intensify competition between industry (traditionally a producer without contact to the end consumer), intermediate trade (retailer / distributor / importer) and retail trade Place. Proponents see in the development of these highly individualized production methods a higher penetration of the market, also in rural regions, insofar as the retail trade can not only bring a product much closer to the customer or end consumer, but also enable them to take various aspects before the purchase to design yourself.

A temporary variant of these mixed forms concerns electronic books and documents borrowed from libraries - some are still discussed and some have already been implemented. The digitized / digital content carrier formats are automatically deleted after a certain period of time or further access is blocked during a loan period specified in advance (on the reading devices provided by the institution).

Legal issues

With regard to the patenting and design protection of these products on the part of the creative end user, no claims can be derived from the producers of the means of production and the blanks under the current case law , since the means of production and ingredients (e.g. of food and additives) are part of the regular processes of the deposit Patent offices , testing and approval bodies have already passed through so that they correspond to the state of the art. Likewise, the claim to a design protection in court would not be able to endure (end consumer as designer of a one-off production vs. producer of the blanks), since the individualized design of these products moves in the path of predictability that is already protected with the patent protection ( ranking / hierarchy legal sources ). The same principle applies to a game situation that occurs due to interactivity in computer games - or which can also be generated in interactive music videos . In cases of image, sound and writing (and especially changed combinations of these that were created from and for the network community), so-called user-generated content is assumed in copyright law and / or (where permissible) public domain . Often the meaning of the author's silence is taken in the interpretation that it is impossible for a picture / text author or composer to keep an eye on the control of his electronic work and to ensure fair use [im Meaning of the » small quote «], since it also serves to publicize and distribute a work, whereby the respective author must have taken at least one of the minimum precautions to protect his work ( DOI note, number identification link, publication on his own website or platform / or under your own name or pseudonym, as a software or service application with your own (brand) name, permanent link, digital watermark , EULA , GNU license , CreativeCommons [CC], Cultural Commons Collecting Society [C3S] , verifiable self-delivery and / or notarial deposit and safekeeping), since the copyright protection is based on an interstate legal basis age ( RBÜ ) is based, but has been and will be continuously developed ( revised ) in the various countries according to their legal understanding and authors always have to prove to third parties in the event of legal uncertainties. To date, there have been no cross-border legal judgments, particularly for copyright issues on the Internet, so that (partial) payment systems are usually used initially to provide an author (or a company) with financial compensation for the expenses incurred in providing the content. One possibility of these payment systems is the payment SMS for (mobile) telephony, which allows participation in competitions and / or votes (Public Tele Voting / TED ). Further links and their associated (paid) web content are currently made available by means of a mandatory registration function, either via subscription prices or with effective access to the corresponding link and the payment itself via credit card portals (so-called pay walls ) and / or via telephone billing.


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Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Another definition is made in industry by taking into account the flexibility of a so-called free manufacturing system / FMS; then it is likely that other values ​​will be used as the basis for the definition. See: Alberto Xavier Pavim: Reports from Production Technology Volume 1/2012 (plus dissertation, Techn. University Aachen), 2011, ISBN 978-3-8440-0732-9 , there in particular: Small series: characterization, challenges and Tendencies , pp. 7-9 and mass production
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  7. To the chocolatier with a click of the mouse . In: NZZ am Sonntag . December 23, 2012, p. 28 .
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  12. Ulrike Schäfer: The book is deleted after seven days. In: Zeit Online . October 21, 2009, accessed January 29, 2014 .
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  14. ^ Christian Alexander Bauer: User Generated Content - copyright permissibility of user-generated media content.
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  17. ^ Annette Kuhn: David versus Goliath. In: 128 - The magazine of the Berlin Philharmonic. No. 1 (2014), pp. 102-106, of which one picture page; lectures on music rights
  18. »Bild« and Co .: Springer has online content paid for . Spiegel Online , May 27, 2013; Retrieved March 3, 2014.